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BEST PRACTICE - LEGAL SQUAD IS THE BUSINESS

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Enfield's legal team is sealing deals and helping drive forward improvements across the borough, says Kath Burke...
Enfield's legal team is sealing deals and helping drive forward improvements across the borough, says Kath Burke

COUNCIL Enfield LBC AWARD Highly commended, LGC Awards 2006

CATEGORY Legal

SPONSOR Risk Management Partners

Reorganisation has seen Enfield LBC's legal services department become the first in the capital to win the triple crown of ISO accreditation, Lexcel (the Law Society's charter mark) and Investors in People.

The legal service's 40 fee earners and 12 managers have driven across-the-board improvements in the advice, negotiation skills and support they can offer colleagues across the borough.

Over the past two years, the team has improved prosecution rates for enviro-crimes, smoothed through social care relocations and private finance initiatives across schools and street lighting, and forged property deals for a city academy to tight deadlines.

'We have provided cost-effective and high quality support to our colleagues in frontline services,' says head of legal services Andrew Stapleton.

'We have undertaken two innovative PFI projects, both collaborations with other authorities - which is quite an achievement. In terms of internal changes, I think the wider legal management team has been helpful and we have also introduced an innovative scheme for bringing through trainee solicitors.'

In Spring 2004, the legal service split the role of borough solicitor from borough secretary, enabling the borough solicitor to give more hands-on legal advice and to manage the department. A head of legal services role was also created to focus on service delivery. The management style is now more consultative.

Senior lawyers are now part of the wider management team, ensuring their team's views are represented in decisions made.

Due to budget cuts, the two trainee solicitor posts had to be cut but now two legal officers do training contracts as part of their current role, helped by the secondment of a third employee. The three officers rotate between the teams, giving them the experience they need to gain entry to the legal profession.

Mostly, the team bills other departments for chargeable time but it has directly funded two posts to create a cleaner, greener Enfield. Although these two new lawyers are professionally managed by the borough solicitor, their client department supervises their day-to-day work - helping halve the number of abandoned vehicles recorded, driving through over 100 successful prosecutions for enviro-crime and refusing 70% of requests for new alcohol licences.

The borough is also working with neighbouring Barnet LBC under a shared PFI scheme to replace and fit new street lighting worth£50m.

The team has achieved various wins in education: helping drive through important property deals and forging the first joint-private finance deal for a school.

Residents will benefit from a£25m city academy and community facilities, thanks to fast work on the part of the legal team in forging a complex property deal. The council had just over six months from October 2004 to negotiate buying the land in the face of an option to purchase that favoured a third party, and to convert the planning use - all in time to for a government funding deadline.

The council has also forged what is thought to be the first jointly commissioned PFI project in education - generating£67m of credits through the opening of three schools in partnership with neighbouring Newham LBC. The project has won government praise for driving down commissioning and operational costs.

Legal services worked with education and internal audit to recoup£650,000 from a neighbouring borough in unpaid education fees.

'The thing I am most proud of is the legal service itself; we have many talented lawyers,' says Mr Stapleton.

'Everybody works hard, often in difficult circumstances and there is a real feeling of achieving outcomes which help provide excellent public services.'

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